Megan Basham

As most people know by now, the biopic of Johnny Cash, Walk the Line, is set to hit theaters on November 18 and is then set to reap a range of Oscar nominations. And as most people also know, it is a film about a rebel and legend, about a Man in Black who nearly kills himself before turning to the light. But while a movie about a musician battling addictions and the demons of his past is not unusual, a movie about a musician sharing a faithful, lasting love for 35 years is.

Before their deaths in 2003, Johnny and June Cash helped frame the script that was to become the film about their lives. But talking to the actors and director leaves the distinct impression that the Cashes shaped Walk the Line not so much by what they said or recalled, but by who they were - anomalies of authenticity in an industry of frauds.

Meeting The Cast

As he enters our interview room at the W Hotel in Los Angeles, Joaquin Phoenix appears to bear heavily the responsibility of portraying one of our nation’s greatest musical legends. He looks like a road-weary refugee of Folsom Prison himself, albeit in an oversized hooded sweatshirt and ripped jeans instead of stripes. He also looks about as out-of-place in this fashionable setting as Johnny Cash might have, and its obvious why Cash personally chose Phoenix to be his cinematic doppelganger. 

Phoenix paces the room and even leaves several times before we can begin the interview. It's clear he's tired of talking to the press - of making publicity rounds and re-answering the same questions that are part and parcel of film promotion. Yet when asked about Cash, Phoenix is more than forthcoming, and I don't have to prod him with a single follow-up to keep him talking. His recollections of Johnny and June flow as one uninterrupted monologue. It is one thing to watch tapes of the Man in Black, Phoenix reveals. It is quite another to have a meal with him:

"John was a fan of Gladiator and asked a mutual friend if I wanted to go to dinner. Usually, when you get invited to something like that, you show up and it's like a table of twenty people and there's a lot of forks and you don't know which one to use.

"But when I showed up [at the Cash's] there were only like six people there, and they were all family. [Then] after dinner we all kind of naturally migrated into the living room, and John picked up his guitar. I think that was his kind of small talk. Instead of sitting around talking about the weather or sports or something he just started playing and that seemed to be how he was most comfortable.

Megan Basham

Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All

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